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Helicopter Contest Gets Off to a Flying Start : Hobbies: Entrants are judged in hovering, circling, looping and making 180-degree turns, all done by radio control of miniature choppers. Event concludes today.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Troy Turley learned an important lesson Saturday afternoon: It is a lot easier to fly his radio-controlled helicopter in his own back yard than in front of a panel of poker-faced judges.

With shaky hands maneuvering the controls, Turley tried to hover the small aircraft steadily before lowering it onto a small landing pad at Mile Square Regional Park, the site of the 1994 West Coast International Radio Control Helicopter Championships.

“I think my performance was pretty shaky today,” a dejected Turley said as he carried his 12-pound, 4-foot-long helicopter to the sidelines. “Hopefully, I’ll get the bugs out next time. This is my first competition, and it’s tougher than you think.”

The two-day event drew about 40 entrants Saturday, some who traveled from as far as New Jersey and Florida to compete, organizers said. Contestants range in skill from novice to expert and are judged in categories such as hovering, circling, looping and 180-degree turns.

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Participants have four opportunities to perform the feats, and the winners will be determined today when the contest ends.

“I think people love the competitive nature of this sport,” said event organizer Clint Williams. “It’s not a simple thing to go out there and hover smoothly.”

Despite his less than stellar debut, Turley said he was glad he drove down from Bakersfield to get his first taste of competition in the hobby he took up after giving up remote-control model airplanes four years ago.

“I couldn’t believe how much more difficult the helicopters were,” Turley said. “You have a whole lot of things going on at the same time.”

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Fellow enthusiast Marco Diaz agreed.

“The helicopters are much more of a challenge because you are constantly at the controls and you can’t relax like you can with the airplanes,” said Diaz, who wasn’t competing Saturday but traveled from Indio to watch the two-day event.

Diaz and his wife, Vera, picnicked on the sidelines Saturday with his brother, Fernando Diaz, and Fernando’s girlfriend, Mary Castro.

The Diaz brothers are both helicopter enthusiasts but said they are not ready for competition. But they said they have begun to master the hobby through trial and error.

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“When they crash, I’m always ready with the camera,” Castro said, laughing. “Once, we had to go through a bunch of tumbleweeds to find one of the helicopters. I had stickers all over.”

Many of those at the contest admitted to a near-obsession with the hobby, flying every weekend and spending anywhere from $500 to $3,000 on their aircraft.

“It’s such a challenge, and it’s interesting too,” said Barry Margo of Garden Grove. “For people who are used to flying model airplanes, this is a whole new experience.”


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